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By Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI, June 13 (Reuters) - - Military forces led by an eastern commander have entered the Ras Lanuf terminal and commandeered a building and meals for oil workers, Libya’s state oil firm NOC said on Thursday, warning it could withdraw its staff from the port for security reasons.
However ,a spokesman for the Libya National Army (LNA) force, which is allied to a rival administration to the internationally recognised government, denied the presence of its troops at the port. “We expect every day a lie about the army (LNA),” he said.
The eastern-based LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, launched a campaign in April to capture the capital Tripoli in the west, but the assault has stalled in the face of resistance from local armed groups aligned with the U.N.-backed leaders in Tripoli.
NOC officials have previously expressed concern that the LNA was trying to export oil from ports under its control, bypassing Tripoli. Eastern officials in turn accuse the Tripoli government of not sharing oil revenues from fields in eastern Libya.
“A group of around 80 military personnel under the command of Major General Abdullah Nur al-Din al-Hamali entered the port on Wednesday, June 5, 2019,” the NOC said in a statement.
“The group has taken over a building within the terminal and is converting it for military use,” the NOC said.
“In addition, forces have attempted to fuel a warship, appropriated meals designated for staff, and seized 31 dormitories allocated to Harouge Oil Operations (HOO) employees, the NOC subsidiary operating the port.”
Hamali is a senior LNA commander based in the region, which together with the Ras Lanuf and Es Sider oilports is under control of the eastern force. While LNA-allied forces are technically securing the terminal, they are not supposed to interfere with operations.
The NOC said: “The presence of forces inside the terminal represents an unacceptable risk to employees. This renders the terminal a potential military target, thereby risking the destruction of Libyan oil infrastructure - and the resulting economic crisis that would follow.”
Late in April, the NOC, which handles oil and gas exports for the whole country, had said several Libyan warships had used the oil port of Ras Lanuf, and that military personnel had entered the nearby Es Sider terminal.
Foreign buyers of Libyan oil so far only deal with NOC Tripoli but Haftar has set up a parallel oil firm in Benghazi.
In sign of tensions, NOC Benghazi said on Tuesday in a statement the chairman of NOC Tripoli, Mustafa Sanalla, had been relieved of its duties. It also accused him of making of “disruptive allegations”.
The central bank in Tripoli, which processes the oil and gas revenues, pays civil servants in the while country but not the LNA. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Ayman al-Warfalli; Editing by Mark Potter and Alison Williams )